A research team led by the University of Washington (UW) was awarded a $7.5 million five-year Defense Department Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) to better model and defend against advanced persistent threat (APT)-style cyberattacks, the university said Friday.

The team’s proposal is one of 23 MURI awards the department announced Friday, totaling $162 million. The awards support research by teams of investigators that intersect with over one traditional science and engineering subject to accelerate research progress, the department said in a statement.

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The UW-led team is set to develop a new scientific framework to understand APTs and mathematically represent adversarial cyber interactions. “Using statistical modeling, adaptive game theory, machine learning and control and systems theory, they aim to model the strategic interactions between these stealthy malware attacks and cyber defense mechanisms to combat them,” the university said in a statement.

Because APTs consist of many kinds of attacks over time and many variants can lead to the same composed attack, the team intends to analyze and quantify which side is gaining or losing at any time to help the system know when to keep deploying a particular defense and when to switch to something else.

“The adversary and the system are always trying to outsmart each other — in this way the interactions are essentially a game played between the system and adversary. But the economic game theory that most modeling methods are grounded in doesn’t work well here,” Radha Poovendran, principal investigator, chair of the UW Department of Electrical Engineering, and director of the Network Security Lab, said in a statement.

“We are trying to develop a novel game theory framework that will significantly improve the results,” he added.

Other team members include co-investigator and electrical engineering associate professor Maryam Fazel and various researches from the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Santa Barbara; Georgia Tech, and the University of Illinois.

This grant was awarded through the Office of Naval Research with initial research efforts also funded by the National Science Foundation’s Cyber-Physical Systems Program. The Army Research Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of Naval Research originally solicited proposals in 21 topics important to the Defense Department and received 270 white papers, followed by 88 proposals.

Awards were selected based on a merit review by a panel of experts and are subject to negotiation between the department and the institution, Melissa Flagg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for research, said in a statement.